Political activists and observers in Dorchester and Mattapan are mainly heartened by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s announcement that she is exploring running for President. The senator, first elected in 2012, opened an exploratory committee on New Year’s Day and kicked off with a stint in Iowa last weekend.
Warren has historically found friendly territory in Dorchester and Mattapan. She took 80 percent of the Boston vote against Republican challenger and Trump ally Geoff Diehl in November and 60 percent of the vote statewide. She romped through Mattapan, receiving vote shares upward of 80 and 90 percent in every precinct, losing only one precinct in Dorchester.
Vivien Morris of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition praised Warren’s efforts on the state level.
“I’m extremely excited and pleased that she’s considering running, because of the kind of leadership she’s given in voicing the concerns of working people, people of color, for a better country,” Morris told the Reporter. “I think she’s been an outstanding leader, both as our state’s Senator and at the national level.”
Morris is also heartened by the senator’s recent trip to Iowa, and the reception, which she credits to Warren’s background and demeanor.
“She’s a very personable person, relates really well to people across the spectrum, and is honest and willing to speak truth to power,” Morris said.
Though more familiar with her local senator than others considering a run, Morris said “so far she definitely is the person I support and hope that others would support her as well…. She’s met many times with those of us in communities of color in Massachusetts, and hears us about our big concerns.”
In Ward 14, which bridges Dorchester and Mattapan, the local Democratic Committee head Darryl Smith worked on Warren’s behalf in both campaigns and is pleased she has opened an exploratory committee.
He described her as “pragmatic,” “detail-oriented,” and “a great senator.”
“I think that the senator has the moral compass to bring some real stability to a process that is in desperate need of having someone in a room that will look at the people and not look at the money,” he said, “or rather the money being spent on the people and not the people who are spending the money.”
Smith does worry that an overly crowded primary field, as is expected, could lead to the eventual Democratic nominee coming away bruised before the general election.
“It’s healthy to some degree,” he said. “You get to hear from people, but don’t want it to end up drowning out some really solid voices. [A busy primary] changes that — we can’t zoom in, because what we wind up doing is beat them up to get them out of the way, and the current president will have a free ride.”
A good candidate would do what Warren is doing, Smith said, and explore the possibility of a run by touring the country and talking to different constituencies before firmly announcing. Then the Democrats can consider what they want out of their party leaders, because — “you cannot have every person in the world in the race without watering down the potential leader.”
There are still some not aboard the Warren train in Mattapan, like local activist Robert Jenkins.
Jenkins said he did not know much about Warren lately “other than her little-back-and forth with the President” and her controversial choice to take a DNA test to prove her Native American ancestry. And he split from Morris on his assessment of Warren’s appeal, saying she isn’t as “marketable” as Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, or even “the congresswoman that’s caused all the stir,” Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez. While some are trying to draw a parallel between Warren and Hillary Clinton, Jenkins said that the former Secretary of State was more directly qualified than Warren and neither of them had “oomph.”
“She doesn’t give me the ‘people power’” he said. “We need somebody who’s going to give Democrats a chance at the White House. Hillary Clinton had more clout and she lost.”
Jenkins voted for Clinton, and is pretty sure that the country “was not ready for a woman president,” but feels that Sanders was not given a fair shake. He is excited for the prospect of a Sanders-redux or potentially U.S. Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey.
Warren’s Dorchester margin in the midterms narrowed only in Ward 16, where she lost her lone precinct in the neighborhood, 16-12, in the firefighter and law-enforcement heavy spot.
State Rep. Dan Hunt, who heads up the Ward 16 Democratic Committee, told the Reporter that though the committee will determine endorsements with a later vote as the race shapes up, he is personally enthusiastic about her entering the fray early.
Hunt said Warren has been “extremely impressive” when he has met her and followed her career. “She has true progressive bona fides and I think she’s going to be an immediate contender,” he said. “It’s exciting to have someone from Mass be representing us on the national stage.”
Throughout her tenure so far, Warren’s message has been consistent and strong, Hunt said.
“She ran on protecting and preserving the middle class, and that’s what she’s been talking about the entire time in the U.S. Senate,” Hunt said.
Warren essentially launched her first run for Senate from the living room of former Ashmont resident Joyce Linehan, now the head of the Ward 17 Democratic Committee and current Lower Mills neighbor Mayor Martin Walsh’s policy chief.
Linehan declined to comment on Warren’s current presidential aspirations. She called Warren’s 2012 run her “dream campaign.” Walsh, who stumped for Hillary Clinton in 2016, has a warm relationship with former Vice President Joe Biden, also said to be considering a presidential run.
Walsh told reporters just after Warren’s announcement that it was early days yet, according to MassLive.
“We had a nice chat today, we talked about everything in her life and what’s important to me is that we can win the presidency, the general election, and you know we’ll see what happens here,” Walsh told reporters on Jan. 2. “You know, it’s early, there’s a lot of great conversations. The senator has an incredible platform.”
Mary Kelly, of the All Dorchester Women’s Professional Network, decried the conversation getting “derailed’ by talk of Warren’s tone.
“I hear it from women and men — she’s shrill, preachy, she comes across as a lecturer,” Kelly said. “Well, that is her background. And women do this to women!”
The network is not a political group, but Kelly has watched the national turmoil since 2016 and finds herself disturbed by what she describes as a sustained “war on women, war on poverty, war on sick people” from the Trump administration.
She called Warren “inspiring — her intelligence, her groundedness, regular upbringing. I think she can bring some sense back to the middle class and rebuild the middle class. I just cringe when I think about the damage that is being done to people, and [Warren] is one smart woman.”
From the women-led marches in 2016 to the midterms, Kelly said she thinks people have learned that their voices and votes count.
“We saw high turnout in November,” she said. “This has got certain people angry, grandmothers and these young women are angry and that’s what it going to take to make it better for all of us, not just women.”
Issues-focused groups and individuals also expressed optimism about Warren’s candidacy.
Dorchester resident and co-director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, Lew Finfer, said Warren’s experience in finance reform is a boon.
“I don’t think there’s any candidate that knows more about the power of the financial service industry, the large banks and what they’re doing, Glass–Steagall,” Finfer said. “She’s raised those issues and has a compelling personal story that could connect to people. I feel glad that she’s running and I hope she’s received well.”
Warren’s middle class upbringing in Oklahoma could be key, Finfer said, offering a tongue-in-cheek suggestion echoing poet Robert Frost’s advice to JFK that he be “more Irish than Harvard.” On a national campaign, Finfer said, Warren might have to be “more Oklahoma and less Massachusetts, as much as we feel good about her.”
Jeff Klein from Dorchester People for Peace, said “personally, and on behalf of all of our members, we support a lot of the issues that she’s raising and has been raising in her campaign. We’re an anti-war organization, and we have opposed unnecessary U.S. wars abroad and militarism in general. I really like that Warren has raised the issue of excessive military spending and supports lessening of U.S. interventions around the world.”
Reducing the amount of military spending, Klein said, is critical to investments in housing, training, schools, and other quality of life priorities. He supported Warren from her very first Senate run and in her re-election campaign.
“I think it’s positive that she’s running,” he said. “Her voice is really important, and personally it’s very disturbing the kind of anti-woman stuff that goes on in the coverage of her and her campaign and it’s counterproductive. Her feistiness and honesty about addressing the issues is really important. Politeness is not the fundamental value of politics, it’s conviction and truthfulness.”